Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Surviving the scandal **

Last week, with Cardinal Pell's appearance at the Victorian Inquiry, we had a foretaste, I suspect, of the kind of thing we can expect once the Royal Commission on Child Abuse switches to full public hearings mode.

So universally bad was the media coverage for the Church that conservative US sites like Catholic World News, to whom the Cardinal is a conservative icon, were reduced to using the Sydney Archdiocese's own report of what the Cardinal said.

Personally, I found watching his testimony deeply depressing and distressing.

And I think it raises for us all the problem of just how to maintain our faith in the face of the revelations that are likely to continue to trickle out.

The worst is over?!

In the Daily Telegraph on Friday, Cardinal Pell was reported as saying that he 'hopes and prays that the worst of the sexual abuse scandal is behind the Catholic Church'.

Perhaps that is true in terms of the number of new cases.

But in terms of overall impact, that seems, to say the least, hopelessly optimistic.

On the face of it, the reality is that the worst is yet to come out, and that will have an impact both on potential converts and will prompt many (more) Catholics to consider leaving the Church.

Those in Cardinal Pell's camp, reflected in an editorial in the Australian (that you Mr Pearson?), a blog post from the Francis Sullivan of the Bishops' Truth, Justice and Healing Council and now (inevitably) Gerald Henderson in the Sydney Morning Herald are busily trying to sell the line that he and Archbishop Hart were world leaders in taking action on the abuse crisis, are part of the solution not the problem.

With respect, the catchphrase 'actions speak louder than words' being used to sell this line should be retired forthwith!

Actions speak louder than words?

First, I don't think the Melbourne Process and Towards Healing should be lauded as world first and world best responses.

Perhaps they were good attempts at dealing with the issues.

And we can laud the attempt to keep things out of the civil courts (though the agreements that attempted to prevent victims from taking criminal action against perpetrators are utterly indefensible).

But that had both positive and negative consequences.  The positive was that in some cases at least, issues could be settled quickly and with less cost and pain than a court claim for compensation would have involved.

The negative, from the victims perspective, was that the size of the settlements was generally a lot less than they might have gained by going to court.  And in that light, Cardinal Pell's defence, in his submission to the Inquiry, of the amounts paid out, and attempt to rationalise the adverse impact of the Ellis case on attempts to sue the Church amounted to waving a red rag to the bull.  And the Parliamentary Committee charged, hence the Domus Australia diversion.

More fundamentally, though, the hidden cost of the system was and remains justice being seen to be done.

Justice needs to be seen to be done

On the face of it, the biggest issue with the Towards Healing and Melbourne Processes (and the Churches general policy of settling all claims out of court) has been the seeming protection of the guilty, contributing to a cover up that is much harder to forgive than the original crimes themselves in my view, for the crimes were perpetrated by a minority; the cover up of them remains pretty much the universal situation.

We all know, by now, the sordid pattern of the shuffling of guilty priests from one parish to another.

We are all aware now, of numerous cases where allegations were not reported to the police.   In Victoria there was no legal obligation to do so; in NSW some prelates still face the possibility of charges relating to this (though given the NSW Government's apparent determination to lend weight to the claims of a Catholic mafia at work by imposing strict time limits on claims, together with the Director of Public Prosecution's continuing reluctance to actually prosecute anyone, they may be safe for yet a while).

The Victorian Inquiry also brought out afresh the repeated failure to properly investigate reported cases and follow up to ensure no other cases had occurred.

But even where priests were taken out of ministry, instead of being named and shamed, as would have occurred if they had gone to court, last week we heard that guilty priests were given titles like 'priest emeritus', and plaques lauding their contribution are still found in parish churches.

We heard that even priests who fled overseas continued to receive financial support from the Church, courtesy of Cardinal Pell for one.

There have been a continuous stream of stories about such priests receiving lavish praise at their 'retirement' parties.   In one particularly notorious case, the crimes of a known paedophile priest, Fr Fasciale, were kept quiet so that he could have a funeral attended by half a dozen bishops (including Cardinal Pell) and most of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Even worse, many of those who allegedly knew and failed to act continue to hold religious and secular honours while whistleblowers lost their jobs and those who spoke up continue to be derived as the purveyors of 'mere gossip'.

Despite the recent focus on dollars, it is these fundamental injustices, far more than questions of financial compensation, I think that really gnaws at victims and sticks in the claw for the laity in general.

Empathy and awareness

And then, too there are the examples of a breathtaking lack of empathy for victims.

Instead of sticking to apologies in his Submission to the Inquiry, Cardinal Pell chose to argue the toss over the low levels of compensation victims received.

He couldn't resist getting engaged, quite unnecessarily, in the debate about the legalities of suing the Church.

In the hearing itself he couldn't resist taking a pot shot (albeit in some cases well deserved) at the media.

And he kept referring to victims and those who spoke up as 'those people'.

None of those things speak of empathy for the struggle victims have had to gain justice.

Similarly, Archbishop Hart's flippant sounding comments the week before, such as 'better late than never' in justifying a long delay in acting (for which he has subsequently apologised) and worse (remember when Archbishop Hart was forced to apologise apologise in court for swearing at a victim who he considered was harassing him) did not help.

I really don't think the Church wants to stand on its record to date!

Coming clean?

In my view, the Church should have gone into the Victorian Inquiry with some simple messages: it was dreadful; we made terrible mistakes; we are deeply sorry; we've been trying to fix it; we are open to making more changes to address the problems.

Archbishop Hart's latest speech seems to me to be something of a step in that direction (albeit a flawed one, see below), but it does need to be backed up by real action.

The hard reality is that the Church (outside of Victoria at least) hasn't yet even attempted come clean on everything that has happened in the past.

And in even in Victoria, only the Melbourne Archdiocese has actually released the names of abuser priests, and even then only the names of those still living and/or actually convicted.  Yet the guilty have surely forfeited any right to a good reputation.  And the Church does not normally hesitate to make judgments on the actions of the dead, indeed, it has a whole Vatican Congregation devoted to doing just that.

The Church seems to be content to let the gory details come to light horror by horror over the next years through the Royal Commission.  Wouldn't it be better just to put it all out there now?


In Archbishop Hart's recent speech, he pointed to the US John Jay study's funding that organisational, psychological, and situational factors affecting priests ordained prior to 1970 were a major influence on their high rate of offending.  The solution, he suggests, lies in the improved selection procedures and the training priests now receive, and we are seeing the results.

Ironically, just a day or two before Archbishop Hart was talking, the retiring chair of the US Review Board, a lay advisory group for the bishops, in an interview with the US National Catholic Reporter, gave a rather more critical appraisal of the state of play.

First, he lent his voice to those who reject the key conclusions of the John Jay Study as an exercize in political correctness, and argued instead that same sex attraction was a key factor behind the majority of cases.

He also pointed to the mixed results that have been achieved to date in terms of both attitudes and diocesan compliance with procedures.

His comments also lend some weight, I think, to the view that child abuse seems is just the tip of the iceberg, a symptom of a much deeper malaise in the priesthood and the Australian Church that is yet to be fixed.

Become a sign of contradiction again!

The real issue, I would suggest, is that the Church became so enamoured of the concept of 'dialogue' that it forgot that it is supposed to be a sign of contradiction, forgot that it is supposed to be in the world but not of it.

Perhaps we won't have many more child abuse cases (though that remains to be seen).

But we still have cases of priests and bishops actively advocating for the practice of homosexuality and perverted culture of 'gay rights'.  How many more Cardinal O'Brien's are out there?

We still have priests and Church officials regularly pumping out reviews through official Church channels in this country who don't seem to understand that pornography, even (especially?) in films and on television is subversive of morality.  How many priests are downloading pornography?

We still have priests who don't believe that virginity and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is the highest ideal, held up for us to emulate in ways proper to our state of life in the examples of Christ and Our Lady.  How many more Tom Knowles' and Kevin Lee's are there out there, conducting clandestine illicit affairs with women, their actions more often quietly covered up despite the power imbalances and potential for consequent sins?

How can such priests in turn demand fidelity from the laity to the Church's teachings on subjects such as sex outside of marriage, divorce, contraception and abortion?

And how good can this supposedly improved formation be when an enthusiastic and energetic young priest end up defecting to the Anglicans because, as he explained to his former parish, he no longer believes Catholic teaching on most of the key moral issues of our times?

The priest in question at least had the integrity to leave his ministry and cease claiming to be a Catholic; many more hide within the ranks; and in Sydney Archdiocese, Cardinal Pell continues to permit priests to actively promote their erroneous views through 'gay 'Acceptance Masses', public blogs and other media.

How to cope?

Some appear to believe that the best approach is building up the ghetto walls: give the laity more liturgical shows and encourage them to gaze at pretty pictures instead of engaging.

The conservative axis prefers to promote that peculiar mix of denialism and appeal to authority that we heard from Cardinal Pell when he questioned, despite the evidence submitted by the Archdiocese itself,  whether there had really been hundreds of child rapes.

I came across, for example, a US blog post a week or two back from convert Jennifer Fulwiler entitled, 'Why the Scandals Increased My Faith in the Church'.  It basically argues firstly that the claims about the extent of the problem in the Church are grossly exaggerated, and that in the end we are all sinners, and Jesus instituted a Church of and for sinners that he promised would prevail until the end of time.  And history attests to the validity of the claim, she concludes.

There is of course a good deal of truth in this. We should regularly remind ourselves that the Catholic Church was established by Christ and will endure regardless of the sins of its members, high or low.  That we need the grace that can be provided through the Church in order to secure eternal life. We can remind ourselves that the sacraments are valid, regardless of the merits of the priest who effects them.
And we can remind ourselves that others too that while the number of abusers was very high indeed in some places (such as Maitland-Newcastle diocese, where more like 10% of priests appear to have been abusers) overall, the number of priests involved is not that different to society as a whole (*note though a new article by Mr Tonti-Filippini at ABC Religion and Ethics suggesting that Melbourne rates are much higher than average too).

None of that though, is really enough in my view.


Someone commented on one of my posts last week that I should be defending the Church, not attacking it on this issue.

Personally, I wish conservatives and liberals alike would cease trying to defend those aligned with their political and other views on this subject simply because they are conservatives or liberals, or are important to those causes.

The reality is that even the most orthodox of people, even candidates for sainthood have made bad prudential mistakes on this issue.

Nor does 'the Church' consist only of the hierarchy (or particular members of it).

Instead, the laity need to make their voices genuinely heard on this issue, and push for the fundamental reforms that are clearly needed.  The Royal Commission can potentially help us on this: the challenge is to make sure the opportunity is not hijacked by those from within or without with an anti-Catholic ax to grind.

Rather than suffering in silence or leaving, we need to commit ourselves to working to restore holiness in the Church, and in so doing, grow in holiness ourselves as well.

Prof Tonti-Filippini's take

***There is a new article up over at the ABC Religion and Ethics by Professor Tonti-Filippini of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family that is well worth a read.  While it touces only peripherally on the wider issues of morality that I've raised, it does go to many of the same issues raised here, as well as some I've raised in previous posts on this subject.

It questions how it was that child sodomy - long condemned as 'that horrendous crime' by the Church in the most severe terms - could have been viewed as a mere spiritual or mental disorder.

The article attempts to put some of what happened in the context of the views of psychology at the time, and urges more disclosure on the part of the Church, particularly of the advice on which decision-makers relied on to make the decisions they did.  It proposes an internal Truth and Reconciliation style exercize to deal with some of the unresolved issues out there.

Interestingly, it argues that the Melbourne Process is superior to Towards Healing in that it avoids the potential conflicts of interest involved in the clergy taking the lead role on investigations and decision-making.

Professor Tonti-Filippini also suggests that the formation problem is far from being resolved (though I have to admit I'm not quite so convinced that theology of the body is the solution, but still) and points to the ongoing effects of the failure of the Church to deal sufficiently with this problem as yet on the credibility of priests and bishops.


R J said...

From the chapter in Dom David Knowles's Saints and Scholars which deals with the illness of St Hugh of Lincoln in the 12th century:

"Hubert Walter [Archbishop of Canterbury], after offering to do anything in his power for his sick colleague, felt called upon to suggest that Hugh might wish to beg pardon for any hard or provocative words or actions of which he might have been guilty, and specifically with regard to his primate. Hugh replied that he remembered well enough the occasions the archbishop had in mind, and his only regret was that the words had not been stronger. He added that he had often been weak and complaisant through human respect; should he be restored to health he would endeavour to remedy the failing."

A Country Priest said...

Well written Kate.

There are details over which I differ, but I think the tone of this post, and its concluding paragraphs, are spot on.

Harry Flash said...

Ever since Judas betrayed the Good Lord to his enemies, through her long history the church has always been mired in some scandal or other; many infinitely worse than the present lot. It is only by the grace of God that it has been able to survive as it has and I dare say it will survive this corrosive zeitgeist that views the church as a nest of perverts for the same reason.

Brian Coyne said...

Kate, I mean this seriously. When are you going to stop tickling yourself about what the objective of Catholicism is? Us blokes used to call it wanking — an activity undertaken for no productive end. You present Catholicism as primarily some enormous emotional endeavour — getting your rocks off via emotional infatuation with styles of liturgy, music, language none of which gets anybody to heaven or what the end objective of being a Catholic is supposed to be. Across the face of the Western world nearly 90% of the adult baptised have given up listening and participating. In this country 88% have now given up — a further exit of around 2% since the last official figures in 2006 despite World Youth Day and the Canonisation of the Australia's first saint, and the new evangelisation endeavours. I believe you people are the major cause of this (assisted by the hierarchs who share your outlook of course). Do you not appreciate that the vast majority of people have been listening to this sort of talk for decades. They are simply no longer persuaded. They have gone elsewhere looking for spiritual meaning and 'salvation'. You people have nothing whatsoever to offer the vast majority of educated humanity. This fundamentalist and emotional language that appeals to a tiny minority in the population will not fulfil the instruction of Jesus himself to go out and bring his 'good news' to all people. What will it take to wake you people up — when 95% of the 'faithful' have deserted the pews, or 98%, or when you are hauled before the Almighty and asked for your report cards on how your helped bring the 'good news' to so many? Do you people honestly even stop for even a nanosecond and reflect on what you have done to the Catholic Church? Do you ever stop for a single nanosecond and reflect on whether your interpretation or understanding of the 'good news' actually accords with what Jesus himself might have had in time; or are you so totally wrapped up in your own emotions and feelings of what gives you the "warm fuzzies" when you think of words like God, Catholic, religion or salvation? Pell has been an absolute failure as leader of the Catholic Church in Australia. It was an insanity on the part of JPII to place him in charge as some kind of defacto leader of the Church in this country. Even his fellow bishops have never accepted him. He has been an enormously divisive figure and that the participation rate continues to decline so alarmingly is not because of any 'liberals' — as George Pell himself said in 2005, they left decades ago. It has been you people "controlling the agenda" now for decades and what you are created is an abysmal tragedy. When will the penny drop with any of you people?

Brian Coyne

Anonymous said...

"And in even in Victoria, only the Melbourne Archdiocese has actually released the names of abuser priests, and even then only the names of those still living and/or actually convicted."

The problem is that one of the priests on the list was found by the courts to be not guilty and that there was no evidence against this man. However, since the accusation, he was suspended and all financial support cut off - his family had to pay for his defence. After he was found not guilty he was treated as a pariah by the diocese, who did not return his stipend.

This priest died over 10 years ago, and the Archbishop still saw fit to put his name on the list, knowing that he is immune from a defamation action.

Joshua said...

What think you, Kate, about the embarrassingly predictable appearance of Robinson and Power (two men who should never have been made bishops), who are obviously seeking to use the present inquiries to promote their own agenda (though I suppose in fairness to them they presumably are sincere according to their own consciences - indeed, even Coyne falls in that category)?

Bear said...

One question Kate: how often do you have to put up with absurd and abusive posts and e-mails like the one published?

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks RJ, Fr, appreciated.

Harry, yes scandal is indeed nothing new to the Church. But that doesn't mean it should be tolerated and allowed to fester - that is the kind of thing that tends to create schisms.


If only it had been 'my' people controlling the agenda!

Unfortunately it has long been yours at work, the bishops who rushed back to implement that spirit of V2 and wrecked the joint in the process, and those who continue to carry forward their legacy.

Not one Australian bishop has pursued the kind of agenda I've been advocating, the kind that has kept dioceses like Lincoln Nebraska attendance rates high.

Nor am I advocating something based solely or even primarily in emotion. Yes religion can and should engage the emotions - we are not (old) Spock seeking to deny that we have any, but rather seek, as Pope John Paul II urged in Fides et Ratio to balance that with reason.

Reason protected and purified by revelation though, not accommodating as you would prefer, to the prevailing ethos.

Kate Edwards said...

Bear - Yes I do get more than a few of them, but of the mood to feel entertained by them rather than offended at present!

Joshua - The petition looks to be the liberal agenda recycled yet again as far as I can see. But maybe it is worth a separate post as for some reason the ABC are giving it some mileage.

Brian Coyne said...

Kate, I think you people are really mathematically illiterate. The plain fact is that it has been two of your men controlling the institution since 1978, and George Pell here in Australia since JPII shifted him to Sydney. It has NOT been liberals controlling the institutional agenda. Today, across the face of the educated world, nearly 90% of the baptised have ceased listening and ceased practising. You cite Nebraska – and I take your word that your stats are correct for that place – as though that proves that your agenda can work. What often happens in these situations where people report increase in 'trad' participation levels is they're recruiting from across an entire diocese or geographic region. They cannot repeat the process in every parish on every Sunday across an entire diocese or nation. 5% of a billion Catholics in the world is still a very big number. When you assemble them all in St Peter's Square, at WYD, or any other place, it can look impressive and give you a feeling of "all is well". The starker reality is that it is failing to have any impact on the other 95% of Catholics and, in fact, might be helping drive them away even faster.

Here in Australia under George Pell's leadership collectively we Catholics are facing the ignominy and embarrassment of Parliamentary Inquiries and a Royal Commission to clean up the Church in Australia and we've reverted to the recruitment policies of the sort of personalities into seminaries who are going to be a new huge problem for the Catholic Church in another 3 or 4 decade's time.

The bigger picture is that JPII and BXVI did try their very hardest to implement your agenda and the result was that nearly 90% walked across the face of the Western world. If yourself and George Pell got their way and sacked all the bishops unlike yourselves and they recruited 50 'trad' bishops the exit out of the pews in Australia would only accelerate all the faster. What you would end up with is a "smaller, purer Church" of the self-righteous who believe only they are "the saved" and which is almost totally irrelevant to society at large. Is that what you really want to bring about? It is simply insane trying to heap all the blame on the so-called 'liberal' bishops of Australia.

I simply do not believe anything of what you people offer leads to my salvation, or the salvation of anyone. All it offers is some form of emotional security and certitude. It helps make you feel good and it has virtually nothing whatsoever to do with what Jesus Christ came into the world to offer humanity. It seems the vast majority of the baptised have come to a similar conclusion also.

If you people still do believe in some literal form of a Last Judgement what are you going to answer when presented with the statistical evidence. The instruction, I thought, was to "go out and bring the 'good news' to ALL people" not some small subset in society with particular psychological needs or insecurities!

Collin Michael Nunis said...

Brian, the only reason why people walk out the door is very simple - all those responsible to teach the faith and sanctify the people have no 'cojones' to speak the truth as-is. Homilies are wishy-washy, Catholic teachers in schools don't hang on to a Catholic ethos, and you have rabid anti-clerical habitless nuns who teach blatant heresy in so-called Catholic universities.

A Country Priest said...

Anonymous raises a good point. I was surprised to see that priest's name on the list too, since I know the family in question and they continue to protest his innocence — not unreasonably, given his acquittal.

Kate Edwards said...

Brian, Please get a grip.

First you are being very disingenuous - as you yourself have pointed out on many occasion Cardinal Pell does not in any way control the Australian Church, not even having the numbers to get elected as President of the ACBC. One can get a pretty good sense of who the majority and minority are in the list of the very few dioceses who signed up to put dollars into Domus Australia.

Nor can he be blamed for the crimes of the previous generation.

Secondly, as I've made abundantly clear on this blog, Cardinal Pell's approach is not mine! I certainly agree with some things he has done, but differ with him strongly on very many fronts indeed. The bottom line is that he is in no sense a 'traditionalist' but is rather a neo-conservative if you must use labels.

Thirdly, the Lincoln Nebraska case is one where Mass attendance rates are still over 60% of Catholics actually living in that diocese - they are not as you claim ring ins! The secret of its success is that, due to a series of strong bishops, it never went through the wreckovation of V2 at all, and its leaders have continued to take strong steps to counteract the disease, such as fostering (genuine) religious life.

I'd be the first to admit that turning around a diocese that has been wreckovated is a much greater challenge than keeping up the good work, but there are places (such as Tulsa Oklahoma and elsewhere) where good things are being achieved.

In the end though, it is not a numbers game but rather about adherence to truth.

And on insecurities, perhaps your strong response to this post reflects some angst at that comment on the integrity of the priest who, having found he couldn't accept the Church's teachings chose to leave rather than stay and attempt to subvert from within?

Truth does indeed sting.

Joshua said...

Yes, the liberal agenda again - how repellent to seek to hijack this crisis in order to promote it!

After all, a quick glance at the Anglicans proves that, if all the liberal desiderata were granted - no nasty bossy old Pope, freedom from all norms of sexual morality (except for those against the law of the State), ordination for anyone at all, etc. ad nauseam - then the result would be EVEN FASTER DECLINE into utter irrelevancy. After all, Anglicans have a far lower practice rate than even Catholics, and their congregations are only flourishing if, surprise, surprise, those congregations promote strict doctrine and morals than the general norm...

Hence, I cannot see why Coyne thinks that going Episcopalian would help Catholicism; or, if he does, that he does not become an Anglican forthwith. Perhaps he lives in Sydney?

But he is certainly correct to be highly concerned about the many who have left the practice of the Faith: it is just that his proposed cure is worse than the disease, and that he fails to appreciate that precisely the liberalism and lack of clear teaching that he yearns for has indeed been de facto the norm for generations, and has led to the current bleak conditions.

If only it would be as easy as he suggests to "sing a new church into being"! But in reality, suddenly dumping what remains of Catholic disciplines and teachings would only increase the drift away, since there would appear little reason for anyone to remain committed to such a watered-down religion. As it is, the mediocrity and banality and general atmosphere of decline is bad enough...

Joshua said...

Oh, is Coyne another bitter ex-priest then? If so, it's a wonder he doesn't work for the ABC!

Angele Dei said...

My only response to "His Relevance" (a title a few of us in Sydney have conferred on him) is tl;dr (too long - didn't read).

I'm sorry Brian but you have a bad case of rambling. If you are going to have any hope of communication with the "unwashed 86/90/95%" you're going to learn to use some brevity.

The "yoof" of today have very short attention spans and aren't going to bothered to sit through one of Brian's interminable lectures on what's wrong with the world.